Ethanol

Sugar crops are a major feedstock for renewable bioethanol production for use as a transportation fuel. Other feedstocks include starch-rich crops such as corn, wheat and cassava. Because it is a clean, affordable and low-carbon biofuel, ethanol from sugar crops has emerged as a leading renewable transportation fuel. Ethanol for fuel can be used in two ways:

  • Blended with gasoline at levels ranging from 5 to 27.5% to reduce petroleum use, boost octane ratings and cut tailpipe emissions.
  • Pure ethanol – a fuel made up of 85 to 100% ethanol and which can be used in specially designed engines such as flexifuel vehicles.

There are several benefits often recognised from fuel ethanol use. These include

  • Cleaner Air. Ethanol adds oxygen to gasoline which helps reduce air pollution and harmful emissions in tailpipe exhaust.
  • Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Compared to gasoline, ethanol from sugar crops significantly cuts carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Better Performance. Ethanol is a high-octane fuel that helps prevent engine knocking and generates more power in higher compression engines.
  • Lower Petroleum Usage. Ethanol reduces global dependence on oil.

Brazil is the world leader in fuel ethanol production from sugarcane.


World fuel ethanol production and consumption reached new records in 2018. Global production in 2018 rose to 108.2 bln litres, up from 100.6 bln litres in 2017. This increase in output was the highest year-on-year change since 2010. Furthermore, it was the cane industry that has driven output higher while the previous large increments in output – in 2010 and 2014 – were driven by production changes in the US and the EU, where the industry is predominantly grains-based. The consumption side of the balance in 2018 trailed the production number by around 3 bln litres, at 105.3 bln litres. This difference is not surprising in light of Brazil’s huge increase in production in 2018/19, which only triggered an increase in demand from August/September onwards, leaving substantially more ethanol in stock at year-end. Stocks in Brazil were further increased by record volumes of imports from the US.

World Fuel Ethanol Production and Consumption (bln litres)


2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
Production
82.6
86.8
93.2
97.2
97.1
100.6
108.2
US
50.4
50.4
54.3
56.1
58.2
60.0
60.8
Brazil
20.6
23.9
25.0
26.7
24.9
25.1
30.7
Others
11.6
12.5
13.9
14.4
14.0
15.5
16.6








Consumption
80.7
86.6
91.2
98.9
98.6
99.0
105.3
US
48.8
50.0
50.9
52.8
54.3
54.4
54.4
Brazil
17.8
21.5
24.1
28.8
26.2
25.6
29.7
Others
14.1
15.1
16.2
17.3
18.1
18.0
21.2


The increase in the consumption figure for “others” to 21.2 bln litres reflects an expansion in ethanol-blending across the globe, with many programmes benefitting from the availability of competitively-priced US export volumes during the year, as well as increasing government support for domestic fuel ethanol programmes.


More information can be found in the ISO Ethanol Yearbook